The Legend of Petrie’s Head: An Artist’s Response
By Debbie J Challis, on 16 October 2013
Shortly after blogging my response to the ‘legends’ around the head of archaeologist Flinders Petrie, artist Michal BarOr has used these legends, the head itself and Petrie’s ideas about measuring heads , skulls and faces for race ategorising in a work for the display New Sensations. New Sensations is part of Frieze Art Week and on display in Victoria House on Bloomsbury Square until tomorrow.
Michal had researched here at the Petrie Museum and Galton Collections as well as at the Palestinian Exploration Fund in order to follow the ‘division’ of Petrie’s Body between Jerusalem from his head, which is in the Royal College of Surgeons. What comes across in the exhibition is the focus on the face with terracotta heads in the collection of the Petrie Museum on one wall and the tools used to measure the features of the face – hair, eyes and shape from the Galton Collection – along the other.
The exhibition finishes with print of Petrie’s head as it is now (photograph from an unknown year) in a negative print format with text about the head below. Michal writes:
‘They say the head was lost for almost forty years or maybe less. No one knows how it got here.’
Except, as Michal knows, that is not exactly true. The different stories about whether the head was damaged in the blitz, despite still being in Jersalem, or how it got here – hat box,
crate or suitcase – contribute to the legend and so to the art. And so the head becomes analysed and a spectacle in a contemporary art show.